Hundreds of food industry leaders from both the private and public sectors came together last month for the sixth annual China Focus Day of the CGF’s Global Food Safety Initiative.
This is the latest in a string of recent signals that the momentum is growing for food safety upgrades in Chinese operations. In fact, GFSI’s unique role in driving food safety advancement is proving to be a natural fit in support of China’s “Made in China 2025” product safety goals - for both local and global consumption.
It’s an issue of unprecedented importance and ever-increasing complexity.
Today’s consumers in China are now taking unprecedented care over food safety and health. Meanwhile China’s government continues to intensify efforts to improve product safety for consumption both at home and abroad.
This is made evident in new regulations, stronger enforcement and notably, an unprecedented government involvement in voluntary industry initiatives like GFSI. Tellingly, the Focus Day’s programme was opened by a string of high-ranking government officials – from CFDA (China Food and Drug Administration), the CNCA (Certification and Accreditation Administration of China) and CFSA (China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment).
Ensuring the safety and integrity of food for millions of consumers is never an easy task, and certainly a growing challenge amidst ever-more complex globalised supply chains, changing consumer habits and highly uneven quality levels across local production sites.
More than one session at the Focus Day centered on new food safety challenges brought on by current trends, such as the boom of e-commerce and food delivery, with raw food materials now circulating faster than ever before, while consumers expect more transparency on the preparation and processing of the products they buy.
Massive efforts are needed to combat a consumer trust crisis.
Well aware of the work required to regain consumer trust after a series of issues in the past years, the private and public sectors have readily come together to join forces. Their efforts to upgrade China’s food standards have been swift and far-reaching.
A big part of this has been recognising the benefits of GFSI third-party certification in relation to food safety, with independent auditing services and professional certification bodies to help food enterprises standardise their processes and be consistent with global food safety principles as set out by the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. This approach can also help win consumers’ trust and bring clear market benefits.
One panel discussion explored the role of third-party certification in implementing new regulations and as a complementary support to government oversight. In fact, this Focus Day broke records in terms of the number of global GFSI-recognised CPOs (certification programme owners) making the trip to Beijing to be part of these key discussions. GFSI Technical Equivalence was also on the agenda, with China HACCP represented alongside the CPOs.
Already working with the Global Food Safety Initiative since 2000, leading food companies took these voluntary efforts a step further in 2013, opening a Local Group entirely dedicated to advancing food safety in China. Their focus? Implementing global food safety strategy on a local and national level.
Six years later, the momentum has only increased.
Today, over 160 industry experts from more than 40 companies actively participate in CFSI across its six different work streams and the group has more exciting developments than ever. In fact, three break-out sessions at the Focus Day recapped outcomes of the China Local Group work streams, covering capability building, auditor competence and regulatory affairs.
Many local agri-food operations have accelerated investments in food safety systems, using GFSI’s Global Markets Programme to build capacity and obtaining certification from GFSI-recognised certification programmes. More and more manufacturers and retailers are requiring GFSI-recognised certification as a pre-requisite to doing business.
Our GFSI team in China are incredibly proud of the work being done here in the area of food safety," says Yangying Xu, Chief Representative of GFSI and The Consumer Goods Forum in China. “We’ve had the honour of working with the local industry and national government in various work streams and meetings for the last six years, and the momentum has not stopped growing.”
And the numbers back her up. Over 370 delegates from 10 different countries joined the 6th edition China Focus Day last month in Beijing. Over the packed 1.5-day programme, a total of 56 speakers took the stage – from local to international players, from both the private and public sectors. An overwhelming majority were manufacturers and retailers.
Global to local; new goals for the road ahead.
Focus Day attendees heard insights from what is arguably the most outstanding example of shifting from global to local focus in China’s current food safety landscape. Dubbed the “Same Production Lines, Same Standards and same Quality”, this local central government-initiatied project sets out to match export quality for domestic market products.
Harnessing the increased capacities of operations which produce goods to meet the requirements of export destinations, this project now puts those same systems to the benefit of local Chinese consumers.
This means that GFSI-benchmarked certification programmes are in increasing demand for both foreign and domestic markets.
The theme of global to local was at the heart of many talks over the course of the course of the event, with several GFSI Board companies sharing in-depth case studies, as well as updates on GFSI’s global achievements. These companies, including Cargill, COFCO, Auchan, Walmart, Metro and Carrefour, are highly engaged on the GFSI Board and came out to show their support alongside GFSI China and GFSI Japan Local Group members, signaling the significance of the Chinese market and the collaborative approach of GFSI.
Other top industry players agreed to share best practices from the GFSI Focus Day stage. During the closing plenary, which looked to the future of food safety, the audience heard from speakers including an MIT professor and directors from Alibaba, Ele.me, Alibaba and the Shanghai Disney Resort.
Closing remarks reflected the work yet to be done to meet future challenges and continually improve food safety for consumers everywhere. Mike Robach, Chair of the GFSI Board and Katsuki Kishi, Chair of GFSI’s 2018 Global Food Safety Conference committee, closed the event with a warm invitation to continue this successful collaboration and to meet in Tokyo next March.